25 Fun & Free Things to Do
On a budget, no problem!
Having fun in San Diego doesn’t require a lot of money; in fact, many things to see and do are absolutely free. With 70 miles of beautiful beaches, near-perfect weather year-round, and a variety of magnificent settings countywide, San Diego offers a fun and inexpensive getaway, for kids and adults, any time of year.
Browse through this list to help you plan the perfect San Diego itinerary.
- Head to San Diego’s many beaches which are consistently ranked top in the nation. The beaches are all free to the public, to swim, body surf or hang-ten. Build a sandcastle, relax with a good book, or just bask in the sun – you won’t be disappointed.
- Visit La Jolla Cove and see the magnificent sunset on the ocean. La Jolla Cove is one of the most spectacular natural settings in the world and delivers a spectacular sunset display at the end of each day.
- Stroll along San Diego’s Embarcadero for hours of free entertainment, shopping, and more. Enjoy a laid-back day of hanging out in the grass and watching the many passing yachts and ships on picturesque San Diego Bay, or take in the sights from one of the many bay-view eateries.
- Stroll through the 16½-block historic Gaslamp Quarter in downtown San Diego and view the renovated turn-of-the-century Victorian architecture, home to boutiques, art galleries, specialty shops and more.
- Fly a kite along the grassy field in the Tecolote Shores of Mission Bay Park, a 4,600-acre aquatic park. Here, away from trees and overhead wires, friends and family gather to launch colorful kites into the bay breezes.
- Enjoy free organ concerts at 2:00 pm on Sundays at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion in Balboa Park. The Organ Pavilion features one of world’s largest outdoor pipe organs, a San Diego landmark since 1914, where organists play traditional favorites, waltzes and show tunes on enormous 32-foot pipes.
- Visit Old Town and witness the living legacy of San Diego history. Guests are also invited to wander free through Old Town’s historic buildings, including the blacksmith shop, Seeley Stables, Stewart House, Estudillo House and the oldest schoolhouse in San Diego.
- Bike or jog along Mission Bay Park’s many trails. Joggers and walkers share more than 20 miles of scenic running paths that wind through sunlight and shade near the shoreline and feature workout courses at planned stations along the route. Or, rollerblade, skateboard or bicycle along the Mission Beach Boardwalk, a scenic 3-mile boardwalk along picturesque Mission and Pacific Beaches
- Visit the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center (formerly the U.S. Olympic Training Center) in San Diego’s South Bay for a free tour of the 150-acre facility, including training fields and tracks, athlete dorms and the Otay Lake Reservoir. Self-guided tours are available daily between 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM.
- Take a scenic, one-hour drive to Mt. Laguna. Once there, hop out for an invigorating hike and enjoy the fresh mountain air whispering through the pines.
- Step back in time with a stop in Julian, a century-old gold mining town in the Cuyamaca Mountains. Pick up a free map at the Chamber of Commerce for a self-guided walking tour of the area’s historic sites and later enjoy a slice of homemade apple pie – a Julian specialty!
- Grab your picnic basket and head to Torrey Pines State Beach where you can watch talented and daring hang gliders do tricks in the strong winds that sweep along the coastline cliffs.
- Explore the 59-Mile Scenic Drive which winds you through charming neighborhoods and along the beautiful coastline to reveal attractions and natural wonders unique to San Diego.
- Visit Mission Trails Regional Park to explore the cultural, historical and recreational aspects of San Diego. Stop at the Visitor’s Center and learn about the wonders of nature and the people who once lived on the land. Or, roam through the park’s 40 miles of natural and developed hiking and biking trails.
- Go scuba diving or snorkeling off San Diego’s shores and see spectacular creatures of the sea. La Jolla Cove offers some of the clearest waters on the California coast, as well as miles of protected underwater preserves to explore.
- Go bird watching at one of the many wetland reserves including Tijuana Estuary, Sweetwater Marsh National Wildlife Refuge or the Famosa Slough in Point Loma to name a few. San Diego has more than 500 species of birds that either stop along the migration path in fall and spring, or call San Diego home year-round more than any other place in the continental United States.
- The county has seasonal migrations in the fall and spring, plus over 400 species of birds call San Diego home year-round. Basically, San Diego offers great free birding.
- Go hiking at Torrey Pines State Reserve. Located high above Torrey Pines State Beach, cliffside hiking trails offer stunning views of the Pacific Ocean. The area is also home of the rare and ancient Torrey Pine as well as a beautiful protected habitat for swifts, thrashers, woodpeckers and wrentits. With cliffside hiking trails that feature stunning views of the Pacific Ocean.
- Stroll through Balboa Park and marvel at its beautiful Spanish Colonial Revival architecture. While there, take advantage of the park’s variety of offerings, including 17 museums (select museums free on Tuesdays for San Diego residents), free daily park tours, public organ concerts (Sundays), and spectacular gardens (seven are free daily). Stargaze outside the Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park on the first Wednesday of every month. The San Diego Astronomy Association sets up huge telescopes to offer guests a great view of all the stars in the night sky.
- View 31 historical aircraft up close for free at the Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum when it is open from Tuesdays-Sundays, 9:00 am to 3:30 pm. All programs including Open Cockpit Days and Pilot Talks are also offered without charge.
- Gather family, friends and firewood for a cozy beach bonfire at one of the beaches in San Diego County, including Coronado Beach, La Jolla Shores, Ocean Beach and Mission Beach.
- Check out the 80+ murals of Chicano Park, a National Landmark and home to the largest collection of outdoor Chicano murals.
- Drive to the top of Mt. Soledad in La Jolla for breathtaking, 360-degree views of San Diego, including the gently curving La Jolla coastline and Mission Bay. Spectacular views of San Diego’s East County communities also await guests at the top of Mt. Helix.
- Visit the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and experience the natural beauty of the desert. The 600,000-acre park is one of the largest state parks in the United States and following the winter rains each spring, explodes into a rainbow of colorful wildflower blossoms.
- Take a scenic walk along The Wonderfront, San Diego’s “largest attraction.” With 27 miles of waterfront featuring bayside parks, marinas, hundreds of shops and restaurants, and miles of promenades and bikeways, the Big Bay appeals to all ages and interests.
“25 Fun & Free Things to Do in San Diego.”, San Diego, San Diego.org.